Why and How to Rename Your Business

“…a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” – William Shakespeare.

A memorable business name identifies your business, tells your customers and prospects something meaningful about your brand, and helps differentiate your business from your competition.

But what should you do if you decide that the name you’ve been using for your business isn’t effective at accomplishing those goals?

It might be time to rebrand.

While we strongly advise against changing your business name just because you’re in the mood for something new, there are times when it’s in your business’s best interest to take the plunge.

Here are four reasons to consider renaming your business… and seven tips to help you pull it off successfully.

Why change your business name?

Changing your business name is rarely the first choice. When you wrote your business plan and started your business, you probably assumed you’d operate under the same name forever.

But, there are times when a new business name truly is the best choice.

Here are some of the most common reasons to consider a new business name…

Trademark issues

Occasionally more than one company has the same name. Or, the names are so similar that they may as well be the same.

When this occurs, there’s a good chance that one of those companies will get a cease-and-desist letter requesting that they stop using that name.

And, it’s no wonder why – your business stands to lose a lot of money if someone else operates under the same name as yours.

This is exactly what happened to entrepreneur Jacob Childrey and his established food spice company. He received a cease-and-desist letter from a much larger competitor.

Jacob leveraged crowdspring’s global community of 210,000+ creatives to create a fresh, powerful new name for his company.

You are at a significant disadvantage, too, if another business with your name is caught up in a scandal. The resulting reputation blow will affect your business as well!

It’s essential to protect your business name so that you can control the message about your brand and ensure that you’re not sharing your profits with a competitor.

To learn more about how to register and protect your business name properly, check out What Small Businesses Need to Know about Trademarks.

And, if you happen to find that you don’t have the first and only claim to your business name, it’s time to consider a new one.

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Your business name no longer reflects your business

Businesses grow and change over time.

Some business names are adaptable enough to survive this growth. Others are not.

If your business has outgrown its name, it may be time to think about renaming and evolving your branding.

Nellie Akalp, entrepreneur, author, and small business expert, explains:

It’s only natural for a business to grow, evolve or change direction over the course of its lifetime. The name you hatched in the early days may no longer fit your business’ market, activities or brand personality now.

Not all changes warrant a new business name. But some do.

  • Have you recently switched to a new product or service?
  • Did your business merge with another?
  • Has your business philosophy or mission changed significantly?

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then it may be time to consider a new name that better reflects your brand’s current identity.

Your business name is not unique

Your business name needs to stand out.

It needs to be unique and support your business’s overall brand identity.

Generic names like “Publishing Services” or “Professional Tax Accountants” don’t help differentiate you from the competition. And they certainly aren’t memorable.

So, even if you deliver fantastic service, well-meaning customers may get your name wrong when asked for referrals. Or they may not remember it at all.

Your word-of-mouth marketing will suffer. And so will your web marketing.

If you are one of ten variations of the same generic business name, you will be nearly impossible for customers to find on the web. They don’t want to sift through a full page of search results to find just the right “ABC Plumbing.”

Not to mention that no one wants to do business with a generic, lackluster company.

Your business, your brand, and your customers will benefit from switching to a unique name that embodies your brand.

Your business name is confusing or hard to spell

If your business name is confusing or hard to spell, customers may not find you. It’s that simple.

A business name that doesn’t make sense and confuses consumers won’t be remembered.

According to Mariano Sigman, founder of the Integrative Neuroscience Laboratory of UBA, “a memory is a network of connected elements.” The human brain stores and accesses memories based on forming associations between two or more pieces of information.

So, suppose your business name is confusing or utterly unrelated to your business. In that case, there’s a good chance that consumer’s brains won’t form the necessary connections between your business name and your company to remember the two as linked.

And if it’s hard to spell, they may end up finding another business and getting frustrated.

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How to rename your business

If it’s time to rename your business, you’ll want to be extra careful to get it just right this time around.

Changing your name requires a lot of thought and work. Not just on your part, but for your customers, too. They’ve gotten to know your old brand, and now they’re being asked to unlearn all of that and start over.

So, this time around, follow these tips to name or rename your business to help ensure that your new name serves your business well for the long run. For a longer, more detailed version, also be sure to read 10 Tips for Naming Your Startup or Small Business.

Start with your brand

Your business name should be an extension and representation of your brand essence. It should embody the public identity you want your business to present.

So, start by thinking about your brand.

  1. What does your business do?
  2. What does your business stand for?
  3. How is your business different from your competition?
  4. What is your brand’s personality? (Quirky, Solemn, Formal, Playful, Aggressive, Warm)
  5. What is your unique value proposition?

Take your time and give some serious thought to what your brand is now. You knew your old brand, so you may be tempted to blow through this process. Don’t.

If you’re changing your business name, enough has changed that you need to take the time to rediscover what your brand is today.

Once you’ve defined your new brand, brainstorm names that support the essential elements. If a name doesn’t relate to your brand in a meaningful way, cut it from the list.

Make it easy to pronounce and spell

Hopefully, this is self-explanatory.

In the age of Google and the Internet of Things, your business must be easy to find online.

A business name that is easy to pronounce and spell will serve you well in this regard.

Margaret Wolfson, founder, and chief creative officer of branding/naming agency  River + Wolf, points out:

Today, a visible digital presence is absolutely critical to the success of any business. You want people to be able to search for and find you with little effort.

Don’t make it harder to find you with an unpronounceable name or a name even Rhodes Scholars can’t spell. As in all aspects of your business, make your name easy for your customers.

Avoid too narrow and too wide – aim for the Goldilocks zone

Choose a name that is unique but flexible enough to allow your business room to grow.

If you followed our first tip and started with your brand, your new name candidates should be directly related to the brand identity you’re trying to project.

Review your prospective names to ensure you avoid the following traps:

  • names that are linked to specific technologies likely to become outdated (remember Radio Shack?)
  • names with a focus so narrow that they preclude future evolution (i.e., “Just Cabinets”)
  • geographical references that may make your business seem irrelevant in a broader market
  • broad or generic names without personality that don’t tell consumers anything about your brand

Ideally, your new name should be specific and memorable while also being adaptable to all future business growth.

Margaret Wolfson offers this example:

…your name should be able to embrace eventual product extensions. A notable example is the company name change Steve Jobs made from Apple Computer to Apple. This gave the company room to grow into yet unimagined products like watches, iPads, iPhones and other products.

So, think your name options through with an eye to longevity. Your new name should leave room to grow.

Don’t forget to differentiate

Do you know who your competitors are?

You should because they’re the companies selling to your customers.

Your new business name must help your brand stand out from those competitors. So, get to know who they are. And then choose a name that can’t be confused with theirs.

Otherwise, you’ll be back at this renaming rodeo again before you know it.

Get your logistical ducks in a row

Renaming your business isn’t just a creative branding endeavor – it’s also a practical one.

Here’s a quick list of logistical chores you’ll need to complete to ensure that you can legally operate under your new business name and protect that business name from competitors.

  • Ensure the name is available to trademark (Check the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) on the USPTO website).
  • Check to see if an appropriate domain name is available. We recommend searching here.
  • Register the new name with your state and/or the Federal Trademark Commission. You can read up on the basics of trademarking here and research the requirements for your state here.
  • Update or amend any legal documents to reflect your new name.
  • Notify the IRS of your new name.

For a more in-depth look at all of the practical steps to fully updating your business name, check out this article.

Remember to tell your story

Renaming your business isn’t ever just renaming – it’s also re-branding.

Part of a successful re-branding process is figuring out the authentic brand story you want your audience to associate with your business.

Since your business name is a central element of your brand, you must figure out how your new name relates to that brand story.

Alina Wheeler’s recently updated book “Designing Brand Identity” addresses this very issue:

Names are powerful tools, but they do not tell the whole story. A name change alone – without rethinking of all brand communications – could risk being seen as superficial.

It’s not enough to rethink all of your branding internally. You have to share it with your audience as well.

After selecting your new name, decide how you’ll publicly share the brand story that supports your new name.

Whether you opt for a social media campaign, an email series to existing customers, a television or radio ad, or something else entirely, make sure your customers can see and understand the new you.

Update all of your branding elements

Sharing your brand story is an essential piece of the renaming/rebranding process. And, to make it stick, you’ll need to update all of your visual branding elements. After all, a strong brand is important for your business.

This includes updating your business logo, business cards and stationery, website, and any other visual collateral like data sheets or marketing collateral.

This effort is not cheap, but there are affordable options. Take a look at this guide about design cost to learn about free, cheap, affordable, and expensive options when you buy design services.

Whenever you rename a business, you must make sure that the name is part of a complete, authentic brand.

Every aspect of your brand will be impacted from start to finish. So, make sure to complete the transformation your name change will start throughout your brand.

Parting thoughts

Changing your business name is a hassle. And, it can be tough on your business to rebuild relationships after a change of that magnitude.

If you can avoid it, don’t do it. But, if you find yourself facing a cease-and-desist or running a business that doesn’t match up with the name it’s operating under, you may have to.

When you realize that a name change is in your future, gird your loins and make sure to get it right this time around.

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